Nicaragua is certainly not the first place that comes to mind for a luxury travel vacation, even when you narrow it down to Central America. It's a poor country with a tourism infrastructure that is far behind that of its neighbors. This is a safe tourist destination on the rise though, which appeals to a lot of people trying to get away from the tried and true (and the tour buses that come with the familiar.)
Nicaragua has gotten a lot of positive press in the past decade, with several boomlets and bustlets in the real estate world overshadowing a slow and steady rise in the standard of living. Forward-looking investors are opening inns and restaurants at a rapid pace, especially in the colonial city of Granada, and intrepid vacation and retirement home buyers are snatching up property they know is easily going to double or triple in value eventually. Tourism is growing by double-digit percentages each year and new businesses are popping up to meet the new demand. Positive word of mouth is spreading and the richest family in Nicaragua has funded the biggest beach tourism and real estate development ever—a positive vote of confidence.
See reviews of the Best Hotels in Nicaragua
For now though, this country is a place to experience nature and go on adventures without the crowds—but without a whole lot of coddling outside a few showpiece resorts. The same things that draw millions to visit Costa Rica are also easy to find in Nicaragua: endless beaches, dramatic volcanoes, tropical jungles, and hundreds of exotic bird species. Plus there are some things Costa Rica doesn't really have: colonial architecture and a huge lake with a volcanic island in the middle.
Although Nicaragua is roughly the size of New York State, most of it is undeveloped. Foreign visitors mostly gravitate to Granada, León, and Ometepe Island, with some explorers venturing beyond to the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve or coffee country. Beaches on opposite sides of the country get the bulk of the tourists: the Corn Islands in the Caribbean and San Juan del Sur on the Pacific. In other spots you can stroll down an empty beach for quite a while without seeing another person.
The government of Nicaragua has aggressively wooed foreign tourism investment and has put a lot of effort into making it easier to travel from place to place. However, there's still a long way to go. There's only one true five–star hotel that's on par with what you find all over Mexico and you won't find anything close to gourmet food outside Granada and Managua except in top resorts. Instead, expect all the natural wonders that Nicaragua's neighbors have to offer—and then some.